Image: Fred Lopez

Last year Jason Whittenburg, 22, lived with his mother on the streets of Sarasota. They were among nearly 2,000 homeless people in Sarasota. Then a Venice family offered Whittenburg a temporary home. Since then, he’s worked 70-hour weeks at a fast-food restaurant, purchased a car and is saving to get an apartment for himself, his mother and his younger brother, Jordan, who has Asperger’s syndrome.

“I graduated from Sarasota High School in 2013. I had a pretty stable upbringing. Then, when I was 18, I moved to North Carolina to live with my dad and stepmom, but I could not find work. I decided to come back to Sarasota [but] I didn’t have a place to live. A Salvation Army caseworker connected me to Harvest House, which [allows] 18- to 24-year-olds to live rent-free in apartments as long as you are working toward your goals. I lived there six months, but I was working so many hours at a restaurant I could not get away during the day to get my driver’s license, which I needed to meet my goals." 

“After I got kicked out of Harvest House, I was on the streets with my mom. She is not an alcoholic or a drug addict, but she has a bad back, severe depression and anxiety, and it is hard for her to hold a job. She is only 36; she had me when she was 14. We lived in the parking lot behind a bank on Main Street. We slept on the concrete. It was hard to sleep. The library was one of the few places we could go to get a drink of water and go to the bathroom. Not being able to take a shower was so hard. I’d walk to a labor company, work extremely hard all day, walk back to the parking lot and not have a place to rinse off. At night, I’d use my backpack as a pillow and try to sleep."

“My younger brother got adopted by a great couple in Venice named David and Frances Lutz. They’ve fostered 80 children over the years. They heard I was living on the streets and picked me up. I walked over to Checkers and got a job. I worked 80 hours a week for two straight months, without a day off. I saved $6,000 and was able to get my driver’s license and buy a car. The Lutz family has allowed me to live rent-free for five months. They just ask that I keep things clean and push to better myself."

“My brother Jordan is 20 and is going to school. We’re trying to find a place for ourselves, and help out my mom, too, who is still homeless. My brother is relying on me. That’s definitely motivating me. I can get free tuition through a YMCA program that helps young people in my situation. I want to get an apprenticeship and go to school to become a plumber. We’re always going to need plumbers, right?"

“Every place we’ve seen is $1,100 to $1,200 a month, which is pushing it. Maybe I could get a trailer. I’ve been saving every penny. I don’t want to go back on the streets again. I don’t really have much fun. I work as hard as I can every day so I can prevail.”

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